29 March 2019

Don't Rely on Your DNA Match to Do the Work

Want to get your money's worth out of your DNA test? Build up your tree.

When I look at my long list of DNA matches, most of them fall into the 4th-6th cousin level and further. You connect to your 4th cousins through your 3rd great grandparents.

If you haven't identified your 3rd great grandparents yet, that should be your goal. But that's only the beginning. You need to find the names of all their children. Then find as many of the kids' marriages and children as possible.

These 3 DNA matches link together my mother and father.
These 3 DNA matches link together
my mother and father.

That's where you'll find your match to your DNA cousins. And then, hopefully, you'll learn a lot more about those branches.

Ancestry DNA identifies most of my DNA matches as Mother's Side or Father's Side. And then there are my glorious three labeled Both Sides.

My "Both Sides" matches are my best bet for figuring out the answer to a big question: How are my parents related? Their DNA connection is at about the 4th-to-6th cousin level.

One of these uber-DNA matches has no tree. So I'm working on the other two. Here's how.

1. Find a Familiar Name

One of my matches has a tree with 220 people. She and I don't have any last names in common. But I looked for her Italian names, hoping to find a familiar one. And I did. The tree contains a father and son with the last name Zerrillo. I recognize that name. And my match knows the father was born in Colle Sannita, Italy. That's my paternal grandfather's hometown.

My other match has a tree with more than 1,300 people. We share one last name: Pozzuto. Pozzuto is a Colle Sannita name, too. There must be thousands of Colle Sannita descendants all around the world.

I haven't linked them to my family yet, but give me time.
I haven't linked them to my family yet, but give me time.

2. Use the Clues to Build the Branch

My Zerrillo match knew the birth date of the father, Dan Zerrillo. Always keep an open mind and use your genealogy knowledge. An Italian in 1896? I knew "Dan" wasn't his name. I was betting on Donato.

So I went to the collection of Italian vital records I keep on my computer. I opened up the 1896 birth records and went to the index. And there he was. Donato Zerrillo. Then I began to climb.

Donato's 1896 birth record lists his parents as Francesco, born about 1855, and Libera Piacquadio. Piacquadio is one of my family names. I found Libera's 1855 birth record.

Now I had her parents: Francesco, son of Giovanni, born about 1830, and Maddalena Zeolla, born about 1832. (Another family name.) I found Francesco's birth record in 1829.

Now I had his parents: Giovanni Piacquadio, born about 1803, and Annaelena Totaro, born about 1804. At this point, I'd gone back far enough to be able to search for this couple's marriage record. Not every year's marriage records are available.

Their son was born in 1829 when they were still pretty young. I started in 1828 and searched year after year of marriage records until I found them.

Giovanna and Annaelena married in 1823. Now I have their parents: Francesco Piacquadio and Maria Iamarino (hey, that's my name!), and Carlo Totaro and Donata Nigro.

But Italian marriage records don't stop there. The groom's father, Francesco, was dead. So I have his death record with his parents' names. And the bride's father, Carlo, was dead. So I have his parents, too!

In almost no time, I turned one name in my match's tree into 16 names. And I have more leads to follow.

3. Dig Until You Find a Match in Your Tree

My personal research library gives me an edge my DNA matches don't have.
My personal research library gives me an edge my DNA matches don't have.

So far, though, I haven't connected any of these people to my family tree. But I will.

For my Pozzuto match, I took one person from her tree and found his birth record. Two generations later, they tied into a family that's in my tree, but not connected to me yet. You see, I know the name Pozzuto will connect me to many of my DNA matches. So I've been piecing together Pozzuto families from the town's vital records.

4. Contact Your DNA Match

They usually don't answer, right? But if you write to say, "I just added 20,000 people to your family tree," they might write back!

And if you have done some successful work on their branch, you should definitely let them know. But remember. Some DNA testers are only in it for the pie.

26 March 2019

Your All-in-One Family Tree Clean-up List

Use this checklist of 7 tasks to scrub your family tree clean.

I want to help you make your family tree better and more professional. That's why I've been writing these genealogy articles twice a week for more than two years.

Today we'll look at 7 types of family tree clean-up tasks. Together they can improve your tree in so many ways.

1. Names

Does every name in your family tree meet your standards?
  • Maiden names. It's a genealogy best-practice to record women using their maiden name. Let them have their own identity.
  • Unknown names. When you haven't discovered someone's first or last name, consider recording it as _____. This makes it clear you haven't yet filled in that blank. Credit for this goes to Ancestry.com expert Crista Cowan. I used to use the word "Unknown", but someone misunderstood that. They thought I meant no one ever knew this name. As if the person was living under an assumed identity.
  • Names only. Some people will record a person's name as Grandma Johnson, or Jane Dad's great aunt. If you put notes on people's names, you're not helping relatives and DNA matches to find you.
  • More than one name. I insist on recording everyone's birth name. I'll add other names (nicknames, Anglicized names, and legal name changes) as a second name fact.

2. Places

Make sure the place names in your tree follow a consistent style. Family Tree Maker organizes your place names when they're written the right way. It's easy to click a country, then a state or province, then a town, and find a place. And with a click you'll see every name associated with a place.

Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.
Once I saw how nicely Family Tree Maker organizes place names, I cleaned them all up.

3. Media Files

Remember when you first got started in genealogy? I know I was downloading census sheets and ship manifests as fast as I could find them.

All those media files need a facelift. And it will make them believable and valuable as evidence of your ancestor. Here's how I mark up each document image in my family tree:
  • Write a caption. Start with a year to force media items to display in date order. Make it clear what each document is.
  • Add the date. Documents will almost always have an exact date on them. Add this to the date field.
  • Choose a category. Family Tree Maker lets me pick a category from their list, or add custom categories. Now I can sort my thousands of media files by type.
  • Describe everything about the document image. I add enough information to allow myself or anyone else to find the original image again. That includes line numbers on the page, a description of the document collection, and a URL.
  • Add a note. There is a notes tab for each media item in Family Tree Maker. You can type any information in there. Maybe you need to record who you wrote to to get this image.

4. Sources

I like to keep my sources simple. But I've been adding more and more detail to them.

I use a simple title, like "1900 U.S. Federal Census". A short title doesn't clutter up the person view in Family Tree Maker.

I copy the citation details and citation text from the collection. For example, for the 1900 U.S. Federal Census:
  • The citation detail is:

    Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
  • The citation text is:

    United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
  • The web address where you find those details and can search this collection is:

Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.
Having a neat, tight list of sources makes them easy to maintain and make better.

I like that I can click any source in my tree and see every person and fact that's associated with it. I have a goal to get rid of secondary sources—like other people's trees. I need to replace them with primary sources. My source list makes it easy to find the facts I need to work on.

For more on this topic see 6 Easy Steps to Valuable Source Citations.

5. Filing

People seem to worry a lot about their document filing systems. Don't overthink it. Keep it simple and logical. Remember that you may pass your work on to a loved one some day.

What's logical to me is a folder for each main type of document:
  • census
  • draft cards
  • ship manifests
  • birth, marriage, and death certificates, etc.
I name my files, in general, LastnameFirstnameYear. Here are some of my file names:
  • RignaneseMatteoNaturalization1944-p1.jpg
  • CiottiMariaTeresaConcettaBirth1848.jpg
  • CoccaAngeloAntonioMontaganoMariaBenedettaGenerosa1stMarriageBanns1833.jpg
  • LucarelliGirolamoWW1.jpg
Because I follow a pattern, it's easy to see what a document is.

6. Backups

How fatal of a heart attack would you have if all your genealogy research disappeared?

Spread things out, but keep them at hand. Use your computer drive, external drives and cloud storage.

Make a backup plan for your genealogy files and stick to it. Remember that two backups are better than one. Many of my files synchronize to my cloud storage the moment they change. For everything else, I make a backup every Sunday morning. Without fail.

7. To-Do Lists

It seems like everyone has their favorite way of keeping to-do lists. Post-It Notes, a special notebook, EverNote. I'm fond of keeping a single text file open on my computer all the time. It's called Notebook.txt. That's where I have my:
  • Genealogy To-Do List
  • 2019 Genealogy Goals List
  • List of important families to work on
  • List of files and folders to back up each Sunday
  • and more
I don't care how you do it, but find a way to keep track of :
  • what you want to do next
  • what you were doing when you stopped for the day
  • what you'd like to do when you have the chance.
For more on this topic see Start Your Rainy-Day Genealogy List.

That was a lot. And it's a lot of work. But chip away at these ideas and your family tree will grow stronger from your effort.

Make these tasks into a to-do list and tackle it one bite at a time. It's worth it.

22 March 2019

How to Become a Genealogy Document Expert

It's the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice.

Guess what happened after I spent hours and hours reading vital records from the 1800s. I became something of an expert on the subject.

A foreign language, squiggly handwriting, and countless abbreviations don't slow me down a bit. I'm used to it. And that made me practically a pro.

Did I graduate college skilled and ready for the workforce. Nah.
Sue me. It was the '80s.

How to Make Yourself a Pro

Do you fall into one of these 3 camps?
  1. You climb one branch of your tree, adding people and facts from whichever document you just found.
  2. You don't move on until you've searched for every document for a particular family.
  3. You enjoy going off on tangents and plan to return later for the documents.
All those methods are fun. But you can become an expert on any one type of genealogy document if you make this one change.

Choose a single document type. It could be any one of these:
  • census sheet
  • ship manifest
  • draft registration card
  • birth record
  • death record
  • marriage record
  • or some other type of document.
Commit a good chunk of time to searching for only this type of document. I'm in the midst of searching for every census sheet I don't yet have.

You'll need some way of seeing who in your family tree is missing their census sheet and for which year. I've got my Document Tracker and its "Need to find" column. I can go down the alphabetical list of names and search for every missing census. I'm up to last names beginning with L, and I'd like to knock off another letter or two this weekend.

You may not have a separate tracking sheet. But maybe your document image filing system can help you figure out what you have and what you're missing. The free program Family Tree Analyzer can help you keep tabs on your census sheet finds.

If all else fails, start with your parents and fan out. Go generation by generation, looking for missing censuses.

What to Learn

As you repeat your searches for this one type of document over and over, you will be learning. Here's the type of thing to keep in mind:
  • Which search tricks are giving you a lot of success?
    • Searching for a group of first names but no last name?
    • Using Stephen Morse's tools to find the right set of census pages and going through them one at a time?
    • Narrowing your search to a county rather than a town?
As you try out different ways of searching, they'll become second nature. You'll waste less time.
  • What facts are you seeing on the documents that you've overlooked before?
    • The native language on the 1920 census?
    • The place of residence in 1935 on the 1940 census?
Here's a cheat sheet to show you what new questions the government asked in each U.S. Federal census.
  • What conclusions can you draw by comparing documents?
    • Can you tell that a certain relative died between the date of this census and the date of that census?
    • Did the family move right before one of the children was born?
    • Was one of the censuses wrong about the year of immigration or naturalization? Which one?
Follow your ancestors through each census to track family changes.
Follow your ancestors through each census to track family changes.

After you spend enough time with one type of document, you will be an expert on that type of document.

Where do you want to start? The moment you begin downloading those new files, take a moment to add valuable facts to the image file. In whatever way makes you comfortable, keep track of what you've found and what you need.

Go on now, expert.